Quinn Hughes continues Calder push with dominant game against Islanders

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It was the Quinn Hughes show on Saturday afternoon in Brooklyn.

The standout rookie was the best player on the ice in the Vancouver Canucks’ 4-3 overtime win against the New York Islanders, scoring a pair of goals including the overtime winner on this play.

The win helps extend the Canucks’ lead in the Pacific Division, is their fifth in a row, and improves them to 14-3-0 in their past 17 games. That stretch now includes two different winning streaks of at least five games.

Hughes’ emergence as a top-pairing defenseman has been one of the biggest factors — probably the biggest — in the Canucks’ emergence in the Western Conference, and he is only getting better every game.

Saturday’s game was truly phenomenal, not only because of the two goals, but with the way he helped control the pace of the game. No Canucks player logged more even-strength minutes than Hughes’ 20:14, and they were truly game-changing minutes.

During his even-strength ice-time the Canucks outscored the Islanders by a 3-0 margin, held a 22-15 shot attempt advantage and an 11-4 edge in scoring chances.

By comparison, in the 32 minutes of 5-on-5 hockey that Hughes didn’t play, the Canucks were outscored 3-1, were down 49-23 in total shot attempts, and out-chanced by a 19-12 margin.

It was basically two different games with and without Hughes on the ice. One where the Canucks dominated, and one where they were dominated.

Hughes’ two goals on Saturday also gave him the (temporary) lead in the rookie scoring race with 38 total points, moving him one point ahead of Cale Makar.

Makar and the Colorado Avalanche play on Saturday night.

For most of the season it’s seemingly been a slam-dunk that Makar is going to take home the Calder Trophy as the league’s rookie of the year, and he would absolutely be a deserving winner. He has been outstanding and should be a star in the league for years to come as a core piece of a Stanley Cup contender. But Hughes is quite literally right there with him step-for-step.

The offensive production has been nearly identical, while Hughes’ defensive impact has perhaps been even better than Makar’s.

It is going to be a fascinating race down the stretch, but Hughes and Makar are clearly the two biggest standouts in what is a loaded rookie class for defensemen.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

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